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Engineering A Legacy


Michael P. Maloney entered Niagara University in the fall of 1963 because, frankly, he had nowhere else to go.

The son of an engineer for the American Bell Telephone Company, Mike and his family moved every two to three years during his childhood, as was customary at the time for “Ma Bell” engineers. In the late 1950s, his father, Francis C., and mother, Frances C. (Sherburne), settled the family in Buffalo so that Mike and his siblings, Kathleen and Mary Ellen, would have a stable home life during high school and college.

Mike attended St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute in Kenmore, N.Y., but admits that he wasn’t the most conscientious high school student. As a result, his grades didn’t reflect his ambition to become a fighter pilot which, for starters, required an engineering degree. Mike was wait-listed by the Air Force Academy, something that he says was “probably for the best since I’m really not officer material. I was always more of a free spirit and visionary.”

“Free spirit” isn’t exactly an application term that opens doors to institutions of higher learning, especially when it’s paired with mediocre high school transcripts.

“No college or university would take a look at me,” Mike says. “It was right then that I decided that if someone would just give me a chance, I would work tirelessly to recover from the errors of my youth.”

That “someone” turned out to be Niagara University — unbeknownst to Mike, his father effectively pleaded his case with admissions director Russell Grauer — and work tirelessly Mike did. Considered an at-risk student when he was granted probationary acceptance into NU, there was something about Monteagle Ridge that lit a fire under the then-18-year-old.

Perhaps it was that moment when Mike, sitting in the gym bleachers during freshman orientation, learned from Grauer that only one of the five people sitting near him would graduate and have great professional success. “That was going to be me, I had no doubt about it,” Mike recalls thinking.

More likely, it was the personal attention that Mike received from the faculty at Niagara, people like Dr. Richard A. Hubbard, chair of the chemistry department; Harold W. Feder, physics professor; and math professor Betty Kimmel.

“It was the teachers that helped me excel,” Mike acknowledges. “They always had time for me. It wasn’t by appointment. I could just stop in to see them and they would spend as much time with me as I needed. They took time with those who wanted to do something with their lives.”

Kimmel, especially, struck a nerve with Mike, who had set his sights on graduating with a degree in electrical engineering. He was impressed by Kimmel’s practical experience, which included a period as an aeronautical engineer at Purdue University. Mike also connected with Kimmel’s husband, Robert, who worked at Bell Aerospace.

Of Betty Kimmel, Mike says, “She was a tough lady, let me tell you, but she imparted on me what it took to be an engineer. A lot of people can take courses, not a lot of people can be engineers. She took the time with me and gave me the foundation.”

Mike spent two years at Niagara before moving on to the University of Detroit to fulfill the remaining portion of the 2+3 engineering program.

Shortly after graduating on UD’s Dean’s List in 1966, Mike was recruited by the Department of Defense. Upon completing the agency’s rigorous, three-day examination, which includes eight hours of reading, writing, polygraph and psychological testing, in addition to interviews with directors, Mike landed a full-time position.

In just a few years, Mike had gone from barely gaining college admission to being commissioned for three overseas tours with America’s oldest and largest government agency. His first 10 years on the job were predominantly spent in three German cities, followed by a three-year tour of duty in the moors near Harrogate, England. (Mike’s wife, Sharon, carved out an impressive career as well, serving as an Army registered nurse who cared for President Dwight D. Eisenhower and several Supreme Court justices at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.)

Mike later added a master’s degree in engineering management from George Washington University, and retired in 1996 as a technical director with the Department of Defense. He has since worked as an independent contractor, including post-retirement stints with the Department of Defense; secured five patents; and is currently on a long-term leave of absence from Hayden Software Consulting Inc., a firm specializing in computer software development and engineering.

Mike and Sharon will often take a month, sometimes two, to travel across the country in their motor home to visit family and friends. This May, the Maloneys will head east from their home in Lacey, Wash., to donate antiques collected by their ancestors to various museums and historical societies.

As part of that cross-country venture, Mike and Sharon will return to Niagara University, the only higher ed institution that would give Mike the chance he so desperately sought more than a half century ago.

To show their appreciation to NU, the Maloneys, in their estate plans, established an endowed scholarship — the Betty Kimmel and Sharon & Michael Maloney Science Scholarship — in 2011. It is intended for students pursuing a degree in nursing, computer and information sciences, chemistry, mathematics, biochemistry or pre-engineering (should the program be reestablished). Mike and Sharon also requested that special consideration be given to students who are, like Mike was, deemed potentially “at risk.”

“Niagara University is a really special place to both of us,” Mike says. “It was important for me to do something to remember Betty, who had such an influence on me and kept in touch with me until the day she died (in 1997). If I ever win a large sum of money, there will be scholarships named after Dr. Hubbert and Mr. Feder, too.”